Why The US Open Is Playing Catch Up in China
The US Open is the only Grand Slam not online in China. They are now the world’s biggest sports tournament without a digital presence, outside of the Champions League and the World Cup.
The US Open is already 4 years behind the other Grand Slams. That’s 736,000 Weibo followers. And over 250 million social reads this year alone. The Australian Open was the first to launch ahead of their 2012 tournament, followed by Wimbledon and Roland Garros for their 2012 and 2013 tournaments respectively. As these three accounts have been steadily growing their digital presence in China, the US Open has remained silent. Roland Garros is the number one Grand Slam with over 580,000 social followers, and is joined by several other tennis tournaments and organisations online including the ATP (457,000 followers), China Open (160,000) and the WTA (156,000) at the top of the list.
The question is why haven’t the US Open followed. The US is a huge market for tennis, but there’s a limit to growth in this one country, especially as other Grand Slams look to increase their presence in this region.
Unlike Roland Garros and the Australian Open, there has never been a Chinese winner at the US Open. Li Na’s victory at Roland Garros in 2011 put the sport, herself and the tournament on another level in China, and Roland Garros has been very successful in continuing this momentum. For both of these tournaments, Li Na’s victory was the catalyst in China, something that Wimbledon and the US Open do not possess. However, this has not stopped Wimbledon from launching an official presence online, and with 6 Chinese females in the main draw at Flushing Meadows, there is plenty for the US Open to talk about.
This year, the US Open announced a strategic partnership with Sina Sports in what would be their first digital move in this market. This provides a great hub for their digital content, however, with no official social channels, it’s very hard for the US Open to leverage this partnership to grow exposure of the tournament in the long term.
Why does an official presence make a difference? A Grand Slam is a two week tournament that happens just once a year. After establishing a digital presence, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the Australian Open have been able to strengthen the relationship with their fans for 365 days a year. This means that the fans are more loyal, active and willing to engage all year round, especially at the following year’s tournament. The same cannot be said for the US Open.
The US Open’s digital partner, iQiYi, will broadcast the tournament live online, as CCTV5+ maintain the terrestrial broadcast rights. This means that there will still be large exposure of the tournament if CCTV5+ decide to show it during the night. However, this does not benefit them beyond the tournament.
It is never too late to launch online in China. We continue to see sports organisations, clubs and talent join every week. But with the tournament starting today, it seems like the US Open has missed an opportunity for another year.